I like lists. Like Jhumpa Lahiri in The Namesake, right?
This afternoon, as I sipped a mango lassi (blend ice, plain yogurt and mango slices; add sugar to taste) I thought about how much ink has been spilled on the importance of first lines in a novel. There must be a list for that, I thought—and several appeared at a quick click.
From the haunting (Rebecca), to the stately (Anna Karenina), to the breezy (Howards End) to the detached (Jane Eyre), first lines “are more or less context free, whereas final lines carry the contextual burden of the entire novel and, for maximum effectiveness, often need several sentences to do their work." says Charlie Harris.
So where’s the list for last lines? American Book Review promises to publish a list of best last lines next year. Lance Olson, on his blog, observes that "last lines often carry what I think of as a sort of rhythmic burden, a sort of aural crescendo that depends on the lines just before them to establish the right rise and fall, or rise and rise and rise, or ironic brake or trap door."Endings are loaded, and contain the whole story in a few words.
Here are a few examples.
“The others listened with interest, their naked genitals staring dully, sadly, listlessly at the yellow sand. —Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting.
"Tomorrow." Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things.
"He planned to call it 'The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger Delta.'" Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.
Of course, sometimes an ending loses the reader. Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters ends with an image--well, I don't want to go there.
For my own novel, I called on an image I had used as a symbol and refrain throughout. When a reader said, "I just finished the book, and I'm sitting here crying," I was at least as moved as she.